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2 Chicago White Sox The promising young Sox are poised to start putting the hurt on their opponents

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

2 Chicago White Sox The promising young Sox are poised to start putting the hurt on their opponents

It's the most distinctive sound on the South Side of Chicago, a
collision of wood and rawhide that's music to the ears of
everyone in the White Sox' organization. To sample it, you don't
even need to watch Magglio Ordonez take batting practice; all you
have to do is listen. "I've been over 50 feet away, talking to
another person, and I'll be able to tell when Magglio is in the
cage," says manager Jerry Manuel. "He destroys the ball."

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

Meet the future of the White Sox. Ordonez, 26, led Chicago in
home runs (30), RBIs (117) and total bases (318) last season and
was the second-youngest player at the 1999 All-Star Game. Chicago
is still a year away from having the juice to catch Cleveland,
but thanks to the development of Ordonez and a young, talented
pitching staff, the gap is closing. "If everything went right for
us and the Indians stumbled a little this season," says Manuel,
"then maybe we could catch them. But they would have to stumble."

For the White Sox to be dangerous, the club needs Frank Thomas to
rebound from his career-low .265 in 1998. Last season he had
personal major league lows in home runs and RBIs, and at one
point in September he got so fed up that he refused to enter a
game as a pinch hitter. Thomas left his home in Chicago during
the off-season to spend a few months in Santa Monica, Calif.,
where he worked out with a personal trainer in the mornings and
ran on the beach in the afternoons. He also hired Walt Hriniak,
the White Sox' hitting coach when Thomas arrived in Chicago in
'90, to be his private tutor. Hriniak, who now coaches high
school baseball in Boston, met with Thomas a few times this
winter and will be on call all season. "Golfers and tennis
players sometimes need to refine their swings, and I do too,"
says Thomas. "I'm trying to get the basic mechanics back."

Thomas already seems to have something else back: his smile.
Though he and Manuel clashed early in spring training after
Thomas said he couldn't participate in a fitness drill because he
was injured, the two subsequently worked out their differences in
a two-hour, heart-to-heart meeting. Thomas now says he's willing
to be a clubhouse leader, something he has never been but
precisely what this callow team needs. "I want guys to come to
me," says Thomas. "We can grow into a very good team if we all
work together."

If Thomas, who's only 31, can regain his old form, the White Sox
will have a potent offense. Leadoff hitter and second baseman Ray
Durham, 28, is that rare player who can run (34 stolen bases last
year) and drive in runs (60 RBIs). Centerfielder Chris Singleton,
27, led all major league rookies with a .300 batting average, and
first baseman Paul Konerko, 24, hit for both average (.294) and
power (24 homers).

Last year the weak links in the batting order--and in the
field--were shortstop Mike Caruso and third baseman Greg Norton.
They combined to hit a mere .252, drive in only 85 runs and
commit 51 errors; the latter two figures were the worst among AL
shortstop-third base combos. That's why Chicago acquired the
reliable Jose Valentin from the Brewers in the off-season and
why Manuel says his Opening Day third baseman will be the more
surehanded Craig Wilson. If the new left side is simply adequate
on defense and at the plate, it will be a substantial
improvement. "We've got a lot of ground ball pitchers, so we
can't give away outs," says Manuel.

James Baldwin is considered the White Sox' No. 1 starter, but
he's hardly a dominating pitcher: Over the last three seasons
he's 37-34 with an ERA of 5.22. The steadiest member of Chicago's
rotation last year was the 28-year-old southpaw Mike Sirotka, who
could have won 16 games, but in 10 of his starts the Sox scored
two runs or fewer. Manuel is counting on Jim Parque, 24, and Kip
Wells, 22, to become the anchors of the rotation. Their bullpen
counterparts are setup man Keith Foulke, 27, and Bobby Howry, 26.
Last season Foulke led big league relievers in strikeouts (123)
and was second in ERA (2.22). He has one of the game's best
changeups and is teaching the pitch to Howry, who was sixth in
the league in saves last season.

"Realistically, we know we're a year away," says Howry, "but I
wouldn't want to be on any other team in baseball because we're
going to be great."

Ordonez is already there. His short, quick, powerful swing is
similar to that of the Mariners' Edgar Martinez. Whenever he
stepped into the cage at Chicago's spring training complex in
Tucson, he attracted a crowd of teammates wanting to hear his BP
symphony. "There's no reason I won't be an All-Star for many
years to come," says Ordonez. "I wasn't intimidated playing in
that game and being around all those great players. I felt like
I belonged."

It may not be long before his teammates know the feeling.

--Lars Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER BAT MAN The sweet-swinging Ordonez, an All-Star last season at 25, has his sights set on a return trip to the midsummer classic.COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT TROYANOS

around the HORN

OFFENSE
[2 1/2 stars]
DEFENSE
[1 1/2 stars]
STARTING PITCHING
[2 stars]
BULLPEN
[2 1/2 stars]
MANAGER
[3 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)

Batting average .277 (8)
Runs scored 777 (10)
Home runs 162 (10)

1999 record: 75-86 (second in AL Central)

Opponents' batting average .283 (11)
ERA 4.92 (7)
Fielding percentage .977 (14)

next up...

The compliment came last March, after the kid had just blown
away the Rockies in a spring training game. "[Then Colorado
manager] Jim Leyland came up to me and said that Kip Wells had
the best stuff he'd seen in a long time," says White Sox manager
Jerry Manuel. "Of course I agreed with him." Last season the
6'3", 200-pound Wells went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in seven big
league starts. The 22-year-old righthander out of Baylor only
throws in the low 90s, but he has a curveball that drops from
shoulder to knee. Manuel is so high on Wells that he has already
penciled him in as his No. 2 starter. "Kip's not just a thrower,
he's a pitcher," says Frank Thomas. "He can spot his fastball in
and out and has everything you look for in a quality pitcher."

the lineup projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Jerry Manuel (third season with Chicago)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Ray Durham S-R 87 .296 13 60 34
SS Jose Valentin[1] S-R 198 .227 10 38 3
DH Frank Thomas R 60 .305 15 77 3
RF Magglio Ordonez R 28 .301 30 117 13
1B Paul Konerko R 78 .294 24 81 1
LF Carlos Lee R 114 .293 16 84 4
CF Chris Singleton L 90 .300 17 72 20
3B Craig Wilson R 257 .238 4 26 1
C Brook Fordyce* R 243 .297 9 49 2

BENCH

OF Brian Simmons S-R 280 .230 4 17 4
IF Greg Norton S-R 310 .255 16 50 4
OF Jeff Liefer L-R 325 .248 0 14 2
C Mark Johnson L-R 354 .227 4 16 3

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Mike Sirotka 63 11 13 6.5 1.40 4.00
RH Kip Wells (R) 95 4 1 5.1 1.35 4.04
LH Jim Parque 173 9 15 5.7 1.66 5.13
RH James Baldwin 134 12 13 6.0 1.51 5.10
RH Cal Eldred[1] 223 2 8 5.0 1.79 7.79

BULLPEN PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Bobby Howry 49 5 3 28 1.42 3.59
RH Keith Foulke 126 3 0 9 0.88 2.22
RH Bill Simas 204 6 3 2 1.46 3.75
RH Sean Lowe 261 4 1 0 1.42 3.67
LH Jesus Pena 382 0 0 0 2.16 5.31
RH Jon Garland (R) 248 3 1 0 1.46 4.38

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164) *Will
begin season on DL Double A stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the White Sox

"The White Sox have some players who can supply power and run
production, but this is one of the worst defensive teams I've
seen in a long time.... Carlos Lee is an absolutely terrible
leftfielder. He can't catch the ball. Jose Valentin adds some
punch at shortstop, but he doesn't have much range. Their third
baseman, Craig Wilson, should be a utility guy--or playing
Triple A.... They'll likely DH Frank Thomas and play Paul
Konerko at first. I saw Konerko play third base at Triple A
Albuquerque, and he was above average. They'd be much better
with him at third, Thomas at first and Wilson out of the lineup.
If they leave Konerko alone and let him play every day, he's a
25 to 30 home run guy.... Thomas is a mystery. It doesn't seem
like he's lost any bat speed, but it looks like he's standing
much more straight up at the plate than he used to.... The
toughest guy to figure out is shortstop Mike Caruso. He does a
lot of things I question. He swings like a big man, but he's
small. He should be putting the ball in play. And he throws a
ton of balls away. He's talented but out of control."